He didn’t catch a single fish.
His older brother caught fish. His cousins caught fish. His dad caught fish.
Although he wanted to catch fish, he was happy to just be in the water. And although I did catch fish, I’m happy that makes him happy.
His rod is about two feet long. It has only two guides and is about as stiff as they come. The tiny spincasting reel works about 70% of the time. If I’ve got the right marabou jig on there, he can whip it out a good fifteen feet. Assuming the reel engages before the jig nestles into the lake bottom muck, he’s got a good chance at panfish or pickerel.
Or, he can lay on the dock and use the rod to attempt to stab minnows. That probably isn’t going to work, but he is happy doing it.
Seeing as fighting with equipment and skewering cagey baitfish doesn’t yield a lot of fast-paced action, there are other forms of entertainment on the water. I don’t think many fly fishers are aware how fun it is to throw handfuls of sand into the lake for hours. With all the stealth that angling requires, I bet that few adults appreciate the sensation of running headlong into the lake over and over again. Patrolling the beach as a life guard, and informing everyone in earshot as much, is about as good as it gets.
You could make the case that none of those activities has anything to do with fly fishing. On first glance, no one would blame you for making that mistake. It is all loud, splashy, and very un-fishy. But it is how a three-year-old starts his journey into fly fishing.
Better than many adults, a three-year-old appreciates that fly fishing is simply part of the journey. He’s aware that there are much greater things at the destination. Fish, nature, and people all supersede gear, technique, and catch numbers. Being outside is what he enjoys. Being outside makes him happy.
I want him to want to fly fish. He does, in an appropriate manner for a three-year-old. But right now he’s not going to eschew a Spider-Man birthday cake in favor of an Orvis cake. He isn’t going to practice casting in the backyard for hours – he has to practice being a fireman, a policeman, and a cat. Most important for me to remember: he’s not going to be happy fly fishing for a day, or even half of a day. He wants it in moments and streaks. He wants it interspersed with nature lessons, granola bars, and splash fights.
At three, he lives what most of us say: “it is all about being outside.” He knows it, and it makes him happy.
Maybe when he’s four or fourteen or twenty-four he’ll be happy fly fishing all day. While he’s three, I think it is pretty important to let him focus on the important things. Fishing will come, but if it doesn’t, at least I can say I helped him be happy in the water.